On Etymological Elaboration and its Potential Effect on the Iranian EFL Learner’s Knowledge of Opaque Idioms.
Idioms are much more than ‘decorative icing’ to the language; they are an integral feature of both written and spoken English. The ability to comprehend and use idiomatic language is one of the distinguishing marks of native-like competence. In this research study, the target population of this study were 60 female EFL students at intermediate level of proficiency. All of the participants were native speakers of Persian studying at the Iran Language Institute of Rasht; Iran. After calculating OPT results and validating the idioms test through pilot study, the participants were divided into two groups to receive different treatments: Control Group:received no Etymological knowledge, but they received treatment through a conventional method, (definition of the opaque idioms with examples).Experimental Group:received instruction through etymological elaboration, (Etymological Information with examples). The research question sought to investigate which technique of teaching idioms yields better results in improving learners’ opaque idioms knowledge. The results of the opaque idioms posttest indicated that the group instructed through etymological elaboration had better performance, the group receiving explicit instruction of opaque idioms’ definitions had lower performance. However, the T-Test procedure revealed that the difference between the performances of the two groups were statistically significant. In other words, etymological information of the opaque idioms had significantly different effect on the learners’ knowledge of opaque idioms.Based on the results, it can be concluded that etymological information of idioms has differential effects on the knowledge of opaque idioms of Iranian EFL learners. In addition, etymological information is conducive to Iranian intermediate learners’ knowledge of opaque idioms.
Statement of the problem
Teaching and learning English idioms have long been a difficult task for both EFL students and teachers in Iran due to some reasons such as lack of resources and little contact with the target language (Sadeghi, 2005). Among different components of a language (grammar, vocabulary, phrasal verbs, idioms, expressions…) learning the idioms is probably the most difficult task to be accomplished. In one hand, learning idioms has always been a big problem for students, especially foreign language learners. On the other hand, any foreign language learner knows that idioms are essential and their shortage leads to a feeling of insecurity.
According to Glucksberg (2001) the meaning of the idioms can be guessed from the meaning of one of their subcomponents but usually the meaning is completely different, this is the reason why they are so tricky for students. Boers (1992) stated that it is inevitable for students to face problems dealing with idioms by knowing this fact that their meanings are not clear and are motivated by their original, literal usage and the meanings of idioms cannot be attained directly at the first look and the tricky nature of idioms makes students face problems extracting their meanings.
Since L2 learners have difficulties in learning and using the phrasal words and idioms, and the traditional methods used by teachers do not make significant changes in L2 learner’s idiom learning, new techniques for teaching idioms to L2 learners are required. By the emergence of new approaches to teach a second language, finding a good method to teach idioms has been the main concern of some researchers (e.g., Elena & Moreno, 2001; Cook, Fazly, & Stevenson, 2007). To the researchers best knowledge; few studies have been conducted to examine the effect of different methods of teaching idioms to EFL learners.
As a result, this study is designed to investigate the effect of etymological information ofidioms on Iranian EFL learners’ knowledge of opaque idioms.
1.1 statement of the problem
Language, according to Hudson (1980), is at the center of human life and the ability to learn language is among the greatest mental achievements of mankind. Studies of language in television news programs have found that speakers use one unique metaphor for every 25 words (Grasser, Mio, & Millis, 1989). Linguists and educators in various language-related fields have been able to understand, to some extent, what language is and how it is learned as a second or foreign language and how it can be taught. Language is composed of many different parts each of which is important in learning. Learning and understanding idioms, metaphoric, and idiomatic expressions have long played an important role in the English language. In fact, the use of idioms is so widespread that understanding these expressions is essential to successful communication, whether in listening, speaking, reading, or writing.
The importance of idioms has been emphasized by linguists and language teachers in recent years. Bortfeld (2003) believes that the increasing number of idioms in Dictionary of American Idioms (Boatner, Gates, &Makkai, 1975;1995) is indicative of the essential role idioms play in daily language use. According to Salehi (2012), in recent years, idioms have received considerable amount of attention in EFL contexts. Linguists have sought ways to promote learning and teaching methods of these prefabricated language chunks. It is now believed thatthe meaning of all idioms is not arbitrary but somehow ‘motivated’ by their literal, original usage. This technique is called ‘etymological elaboration’. Idioms can be transparent and opaque in nature. Transparent idioms are those idioms that can be more easily understood. Examples are (“lend me a hand”, “hit the nail on the head”). Opaque idioms may have specific meaning that cannot easily be discerned. Opaque idioms may need more direction explanation and the use of other descriptions to help students understand the meaning. Examples are (“he’s pulling your leg”, “green thumb”).Many of English learners even those who have achieved advanced levels of English skills such as speaking, listening and etc, maybe deficient at cultural fields of language, because culture of an area is a unique matter of its own. Different countries, cities and even neighborhoods have distinct stories behind them and originated from that unique context and then will be transferred to the society. According to Brown(1994, p.170) culture is deeply ingrained part of the very fiber of our being, but language -the means for communication among members of a culture- is the most visible and available expression of that culture. An idiom is a phrase that is commonly used within a given culture and understood to have a meaning different from its literal meaning.
Glucksberg (2001) states that “what sets idioms apart from most other fixed expressions is their ‘non-logical’ nature, that is, the absence of any discernable relation between their linguistic meanings and their idiomatic meanings” (p. 68). This point of view is supported by Cooper (1998) who compares idioms to metaphors; “[a]n idiom can have a literal meaning, but its alternate, figurative meaning must be understood metaphorically. For example, over the hill can mean on the other side of the hill, but the figurative meaning is to be very old” (p. 255). Bromley (1994) goes even further by saying that “its meaning cannot be inferred grammatically, neither can meaning be determined from its literal translation, nor can meaning always be determined from the surrounding material “(p. 274). Without a doubt, this presents language learners with a special learning problem. Because idioms can mean something different from what the words mean. It can be difficult for someone not knowing the culture of that language an
d the story and the origins behind them thus the person cannot use them properly and does not how to deal with them.
Although research on the effect of etymological elaboration (provision of information about a word’s origin and background in instruction) on L2 idiom acquisition has showed that it is a useful mnemonic approach that can help L2 learners retain target idioms (Boers, Demecheleer, Eyckmans, 2000, 2004, 2007 ). Idiom learning constitutes a difficult part in second language acquisition because idioms are word collocations with figurative meanings that cannot be easily predicted from the literal meanings of their constituent parts(Cooper, 1999).
In order to understand an opaque idiom, one needs to know the culture references of that idiom. For example, most native North American speakers know that “up the river” means “to or in prison” and can use the idiom properly, but few know it, because this phrase originated with reference to Sing Sing prison, which is situated up the Hudson River from the city of New York. Therefore, in these conditions learning idioms seems so complicated and though. Knowing where your students are coming from makes it easier to anticipate what they might find difficult (or just strange) in class. Young children are inherently capable of learning the necessary phonemes, morphemes, and syntax as they mature. In other words, they have a genetic propensity to learn language. Language acquisition is a major aspect ofthis learning. How children actually learn a language is not entirely clear, however. Most linguists believe that they do it primarily by listening to and trying to communicate with adult speakers. Initially, this means that they imitate the phonemes. Later they begin to learn grammar by imitation as well. But learning the culture of the language needs more attention and it is a complicated matter in our country, Iran. Because, originally we are a traditional country and our focus is more on the grammatical cases of language.
The main goal of learning English language in Iran is just knowing some grammatical rules and communicating just to satisfy our basic needs. Yet nowadays the goals of learning English are very different from those times. In addition to grammatical rules, we must know cultural norms of that language as they are called cultural connotation .Knowing and using the origins and histories of opaque idioms is a part of cultural studies that in our country is not considered carefully and have been ignored in many cases .Many studies conducted on idioms have investigated different processes which are used during L1 idiom acquisition. In spite of this, the processes involved in L2 idioms representation are still a serious challenge in L2 idioms acquisition; as a result, second language learners have major problems in learning idioms.
According to Boers and Demecheleer, idioms with a clear etymological origin tend to be more transparent than those whose origin has become obscure. For example the etymological origin of under one’s own steam (i.e, steam energy on ships and trains) is probably clearer to most language users than that of its underway.
Conventions differ across cultures, so the straightforward images need not be self-evident in another. The imageable idioms of a given language may not call up the same conventional scenes in the minds of learners of that language. She broke my heart, for example, may be semantically quite opaque to members of community whose culture does not conceive of the heart as the seat of emotions (Fernando, 1996 124_35). Comprehension problems caused by such outspoken cross-culture differences will mostly be confined to situations where distant cultures meet.
1.2 significance of the study
Idioms are an important part of any language and there are many types of idioms. So, they should be learnt and taught appropriately since they are part of what is broadly considered to be general English (Moreno, 2011). The present study will investigate the impact of idiom